Seconds away for England.
Triple-Crown champions England can walk away from the 2014 Championship with their heads held high, regardless of where they finish up come Saturday evening.
After their narrow, underserved defeat to France in the opening round, they have since put together arguably the two most impressive performances this season in their victories over Ireland and Wales. However Stuart Lancaster’s side look favourites to finish second for a fifth time in seven seasons.
Level on points with Ireland and France but with a points difference of +32, England have it all to do to make up ground on Ireland’s +81 to give themselves hope of taking a first title since 2011. Having to put up a big score in Italy does not bode well, however, as their last three visits to Rome have resulted in victory margins of just 4,5 and 4 points respectively.
That said, it’s not all doom and gloom as any victory for England – coupled with a French win in Paris – would most likely see England crowned champions. That would leave England and France with four wins apiece but crucially France have only a meagre +3 point difference.
England remain the only side never to have lost to the Italians in the Six Nations – indeed they have never lost in any of their previous 19 Tests against the Azzurri.
Italy, having conceded defeat away to Ireland almost before a ball was kicked last weekend, appear to have been gearing up for this one from a few weeks back as they bid to avoid a first whitewash since 2009 and indeed first wooden spoon since 2011. They should welcome back captain Sergio Parisse (rested against Ireland) while they finally have a back-three capable of causing damage.
England, however, should wear the hosts down eventually, with Manu Tuilagi poised to make his return from injury as the visitors look to chase a big score. Take England to prevail – but not by the points difference required to clinch the title should Ireland triumph in Paris. However they should give it a right good rattle and win by 15 points or more. We also predict a higher-scoring second half as England find top gear late on.
The match kicks off tomorrow, Saturday at 12.30pm. As ever, you can bet on Italy V England in our rugby betting markets.